Sunday, 28 February 2010


Seems I've lost my visitors flags, which is a pity as I had been building up quite a collection.  I've tried all sorts of ways to reinstate them, but the only way I have managed to get them to show is by starting over from scratch.

I started, and now I'll finish

As I said yesterday, there are times when I find that words flow from the keyboard almost quicker than I can type them.   But yesterday I got sidetracked, something I find happens all too frequently these days.  Could it be to do with the increasing years, or is it just that I have not noticed it happening in the past?  Anyway, there are times when I find that words flow from the keyboard almost quicker than I can type them.  There are other times when I sit staring at a blank monitor screen wondering what on earth I can write about.

But does it matter if I have nothing to say?  Is it a sign that my mind is stagnating and I am creeping nearer and nearer to that long sleep?  I don't think that is really the case; it's just that some days I have something that is positively bursting to get out of me - and on other days I haven't.

But why do I get these twinges of guilt on the days when I really have nothing to say?  It's hardly as if the entire world is waiting with bated breath to read my daily pearls of wisdom.  It's just a "me" thing.  Having set up this blog I feel obliged to post as near to every day as I can manage.  And there's no particular reason for that.  I suppose it might have something to do with me being a frustrated writer.  I wish I could write.  I would dearly like to have the ability to write one of those weekly newspaper columns that are all blather and blarney but provide a little amusement and entertainment during the dark and dreary days of winter.  And during the sparkling days of summer as well.  But that is not to be, so I must content myself with blogging a few incoherent thoughts day by day.

At least anybody who happens to drop by can easily click the "next blog" button or the "previous site" arrow and consign these inane dribblings to the depths of cyberspace.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

My own enigma machine

There are times when I find that words flow from the keyboard almost quicker than I can type them.  Not that the typing is fast; far from it, as I use just the one finger on each hand, so the words don't really have to flow that fast in order to beat the typing.  Mind you, there are problems if I am for some reason using the laptop computer rather than the big, chunky keyboard that is linked to the 'big' computer.  I don't know why, but I find with the laptop that whole chunks of sentences insert themselves into the wrong places.  I'm sure I don't hit a strange function key or macro, but the cursor still jumps back up the screen to a completely random place.  This means that I might end up with something like:

e laumps overThe quick brozy dog.wn fox j

I feel as though I am typing in a foreign language or a strange code.  Or rather, not that I am typing in that language, but more that what I type is being automatically translated or encrypted.  Weird.

And can you spare a pound for Leo House?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Every little helps

One of our supermarket chains uses that title as a catchphrase in it's TV adverts and when I visited one of their stores this morning I thought of that and it reminded me of a favourite story of mine which I think I have missed posting on this blog.  So here it is.

One morning, just before dawn, a man was walking on a deserted beach.  At least, he thought it was deserted until he spotted, far in the distance, another man coming towards him.  As the light strengthened and as they approached each other, he noticed something a little odd about the other man's behaviour.  The person approaching him kept bending down, apparently picking something up, and throwing it into the sea.  When they got closer, the first man saw that the stranger was picking up starfish and throwing them into the sea.  He asked why.

'When the sun comes up properly it will dry out these starfish and they will die, so I'm throwing them back into the sea.'

'But there are probably millions of starfish on this beach.  What difference will a few make?'

The stranger looked at the starfish in his hand and threw it into the sea.

'It makes a difference to that one,' he replied.

I would like to ask everyone who drops by this page to help make a difference by making just a small donation to Leo House.  It doesn't need to be a lot of money - £5 or $5 would be great.  Remember, every little helps.


Back in 1999, I was the President of Brighton Lions Club when we set up Leo House. Because of my position, I was closely involved with what is now a separate charity.  Do take a look at their web site -
but please come back here and use the widget on the left to make a small donation.  I'll start things of with a tenner and it would be good if we can raise £100.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Raindrops keep falling on my head

and I'm getting pretty fed up with it!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

One step forward...

...and two back!  At least, that is how it has seemed to me over the last few days.  If I knew Java it might well have been a different story.  I don't mean the island (if it still called that) or the coffee; I mean the script that gives commands to web sites.  What doesn't help is the knowledge that it's all my own fault for not saying 'no' when the then 1st VDG phoned and asked if I would take on the District web site next year.  In fairness, I should add that I did suggest he waited until after the District convention when he could approach the designer of the winning entry in the club web site competition.  I am, of course, now hoist with my own petard, although this was really the outcome I expected, having been reasonably confident that Brighton's web site would win.  I had looked at all the other club web sites in the District and knew that there were very few entries anyway so that was not entirely a case of over-confidence.

So I took a look at the source code for the current District site, a site which has attracted a fair amount of valid criticism, and was horrified at the complexity of what I was looking at.  This was the equivalent of a university text book while I was still struggling with a primer, my knowledge of the basic HTML being very limited and years out of date anyway.  All the same, I usually manage to get it to do what I want even if I do have to refer to the Idiot's Guide.  I made a start on redesigning the site while keeping as close as I could to the look of what is there now.  Part of the problem with it is that navigation is protracted.  I want people to go to what they want in as few clicks as possible, preferably two and never more than three.  The answer, I decided, was to use cascading menus, the sort that one sees with almost any application used on a computer.  I managed to download a Java script that provided a one-layer cascade, ie when the mouse hovered over an item on the menu further options became visible as a drop-down menu.  And it works very nicely.  But I really wanted another cascade so that when the mouse hovers over an item in the drop-down menu a further sub-menu becomes visible.  I even located a Java script that would do that, but I have spent hours trying to fathom how to put the main menu in the right place on the page and how to change the colours to match what I am using.  I've given up, and will just use the Java that works along with basic HTML links.

I've uploaded the front page as a demo to show the cascading menu: the links don't work as nothing else has been uploaded.  It works fine using the Firefox browser, but when I try using IE I get a nasty message saying IE has restricted this pag from running scripts that could damage my computer.  So, maybe it's back to the drawing board.

But the positive news is that the Old Bat has had her plaster cast removed and the wires extracted from her wrist.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I feel a rant coming on

I haven't had one for goodness knows how long so it's about time. Some of the little things that irritate me, in no particular order:
  1. The presenter of the late night TV news who signs off by saying, 'Enjoy your evening' - just as the vast majority of her audience are planning to go to bed.
  2. So-called "reality" TV shows featuring so-called "celebrities", most of whom I have never heard of and none of whom hold the slightest interest for me.
  3. Automated telephone calls from overseas that start, 'Congratulations! You have won...' and go on to invite me to 'press 9 to hear more'.
  4. Salespeople on the phone who start the conversation by asking, 'And how are you today?' just as if we were bosom friends who had spoken only a day or two before when he learned that I was under the weather.
  5. Shop assistants who ask, 'Anything else at all?'. If there were, I would ask for it. And anyway, 'at all' is superfluous and means nothing.
  6. Waiters and waitresses who, when I am half-way through my main course, stop by the table to ask if everything is alright. If it weren't, I would have made a fuss before eating half the meal, and anyway, they don't give a tinker's cuss; they just want me out of their hair so they can pick up the tip they hope I will leave because they have given excellent service by checking that everything is alright.
  7. Degrees ascribed to uniqueness, such as 'rather', 'quite', 'somewhat', or even 'entirely'.
  8. People responding to the question, 'How are you?' with the words 'I'm good'. I don't want to know if they are well-behaved or the world's worst sinner, I'm asking if they are well or not.

I suppose if I were pressed, I would say that the question 'And how are you today?' asked by somebody I have never before spoken to is the one that grates the most.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Lost Symbol lost me

Like so many (millions of?) other people, I enjoyed Dan Brown's first book, The Da Vinci Code.  I did read another of his, probably his second, but was disappointed.  It was the last couple of chapters that did it, when the whole thing became just a tad too much like a James Bond story.  I had read no more of Brown's work until I picked up The Lost Symbol, thinking to give him another chance.  I shouldn't have bothered.

The main character is the world's leading symbologist, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, who appeared in The Da Vinci Code.  Langdon is summoned to Washington by a close friend, who happens to be one of the world's richest men as well as a leading Freemason.  The story then becomes submerged in almost forgotten and equally unknown tunnels beneath the Capitol building with excursions to a highly secret laboratory.  Unfortunately, Langdon is one of the few characters in whom I found myself able to believe, most of the others being too rich, too intelligent or too evil.  For my taste the plot is too surreal, almost fantasy.

I reached page 173 before giving up - and it took me a week to get that far - so I think I gave the book a fair crack.  Sorry, Dan, but it's not for me and, as I didn't reach the end, I can only rate it as one star - despite it being number one in the charts.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin.
Henry Horse was bored. He had played with all his toys, and now he was looking out of the window trying to think what he could do next.
Henry saw his friend Percy coming along the lane. Percy looked excited.
‘Hello, Henry,' called Percy. ‘Look what I've been given.' It was a football.
Henry and Percy went out to play football, but horses' hooves are not really the right shape for playing football.
It was Percy's ball, so he had first kick. The ball just went sideways!
Then Henry had a try. The ball went sideways the other way!
Percy had another go - and missed the ball.
Henry decided to take a run up to the ball. He ran at top speed...
...and kicked the ball hard. It went sailing through the air...
...and landed in the middle of some very prickly bushes. Henry did yelp as he got the ball back.
When Percy had his next turn he kicked the ball hard as well – right into the middle of some-one's picnic.
Henry decided to take another run up to the ball. WHAM! Up it went, up, up, and away...
...over the picnic, over the bushes...
...and right into the middle of a very muddy pond.
Henry waded in to fetch the ball, but when he came out he was so muddy that he had changed colour.
When Henry got home, his father had to wash him down with a hose before Henry could go indoors for tea.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Another thought

Do birds ever suffer from vertigo?

Stories from childhood

Once upon a time, when the world was a more innocent place (well, it seemed it to me) and the "radio" was still the "wireless"... You will gather that this was eons ago. In those days, we in England had just the one broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC, the Beeb, or Auntie). They broadcast through three channels, only they weren't called channels then. There was the Home Service (current affairs, plays etc), the Light Programme (light entertainment, comedy, popular music and so on) and the Third Programme (classical music concerts and probably other things in which I had absolutely no interest: one doesn't when aged four). It was the Light Programme which was the channel of choice in our house, especially for my brother and me since it was the Light Programme which broadcast children's programmes. By the time I was aged 9 or 10 I was an avid listener to Children's Hour, which wasn't an hour as it ran from 5.00pm till 5.55. Then there was the shipping forecast, followed by the six o'clock news. Children's Hour was presented by Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) who signed off every evening with what would now be called a catchphrase: 'Goodnight, children ... everywhere'. But I meander.

Back when I was 4 or 5 - before I started school - the programme was Listen with Mother. This was broadcast at two o'clock (I think) and lasted for about 15 minutes. I can't recall whether or not I listened with Mother or whether she took the opportunity to have a quiet cup of tea or do the washing up or something. But I do remember that there was always a story, and that the narrator (always a lady) started by saying, 'Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.'

Fast forward a couple of eons. I'm a father of three children, boys aged about 9 and 6 and a girl aged about 3. On Sunday afternoons I walk the dog for an hour or three - I need to escape the mother-in-law - and the younger son decides to come with me (did he want to escape the m-i-l too?). His preference is to walk through Stanmer woods and he is never happier than when he has fallen leaves to scuff through or muddy puddles to paddle in, saying in a mock-horror voice, 'Mum will kill me when I get home'. 'More likely to kill me,' I thought, but she never did, either of us.

One day, YS was dragging behind and I decided to encourage him along by telling him a story. He didn't want to hear about Goldilocks and the three bears or any of those fairy stories. I had to make something up as we walked along. So I made up a story about a foal (although I probably said a pony as I was ignorant of horsey nomenclature) called Henry. The next Sunday I had to come up with another story, and in the end there was a whole library of Henry Horse stories, all in my head.

Fast forward again, almost 10 years this time. I had arranged to visit a potential new client in a distant part of the country, too distant for me to make the return journey in one day. Potential client offered to put me up for the night. I knew he had a young daughter and I thought to make a book of one of the stories but my drawing skills are as negligible as my culinary abilities so there would be a problem over the illustrations. But before that visit, we stayed a few days with my cousin. Her son, then a teenager, now a Lieutenant-Colonel, was a reasonable artist and I bribed him into doing the illustrations for me. I think I offered him a share of the royalties if the book was ever published.

I discovered the text and artwork buried deep in the works of the computer - which is what prompted today's blog. So, dear reader, come back tomorrow - same time, same place - and I will tell you a story about Henry Horse playing football.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Tradition? Bah, humbug!

A decision made at the Lions' meeting on Wednesday has led me to muse on tradition. I happen to live in a country which is reputed to be steeped in tradition, and yes, we English do seem to have a lot of traditions. Many of these are associated with the Royal Family, which is perhaps not very surprising as our monarchy is possibly itself one of our older traditions. There are those who would dispense with the trappings of our constitutional monarchy, claiming that it is too expensive and it outmoded. On the other hand, the monarch does provide a sort of non-political rallying point that a president cannot given that he or she is a politician.

In just a few weeks' time one of those ancient traditions connected with the monarchy will take place. On Maundy Thursday, the monarch hands out Maundy money. This is a tradition which dates back very nearly 350 years to the reign of King Charles II and involves poor people being given money. (Perhaps we will return to this subject as there is quite a lot of detail involved.) Still with the monarchy, we have the tradition of the sovereign enjoying two birthdays each year - the real one and the official one. The official birthday is marked by a ceremony called Trooping the Colour when one of the regiments of the Household Division parades its colour in front of the troops and the sovereign. This was originally intended as a means of showing the soldiers which was their regiment's colour so that in the confusion of battle they would be able to recognise where their commanding officer was.

Many traditions do seem to have started their lives as some form of useful activity but have, with the passage of time, lost their original purpose or that purpose has become redundant or unnecessary. But there are other forms of tradition which have apparently never served a useful purpose. These really are merely customs - or even habits. Clubs and societies often claim to have their traditions, but how they came about has long since been forgotten. The same can be said for why they came about. I'm thinking here of things like initiation ceremonies or, as a hypothetical example, the dramatic society taking a swim in the sea on the third Sunday in September every year. What purpose would that serve?

But perhaps that would serve a purpose. As well as being a creature of habit and routine, man is basically a pack animal. We want to belong to a group of some sort, be it a gang, a society or just a group of friends. A lot of the traditions which grow up around such groups serve a purpose which is not immediately obvious: they help bind the group together.

Traditions, though, can become habits. If a member of our hypothetical dramatic society proposed altering the day of the annual swim, there would almost certainly be an objection from somebody that 'we have always swum on the third Sunday in September'. So what? Does it really matter if for once the swim takes place on a different Sunday which just happens to be more convenient for the majority?

That is, basically, what has happened in our Lions Club. For all but sixty years, the club has met on the first and third Wednesday each month, the meeting on the first Wednesday having evolved into a social dinner meeting with the second meeting being reserved for dealing with business. It was suggested that, as several members had other commitments on the first Wednesday, the dinner meetings should be held on the first Thursday. The cry came: 'but we've always...' All the same, our dinner meetings will move to the first Thursday, starting in July with the new Lions' year.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Hitech robbery

There may not be too many highwaymen around these days, but one crime from which we suffer in the 21st century was undreamed of back in the time of Dick Turpin and the rest: cybercrime. The value (if that is the correct word) of this form of criminal activity is now so great that I can't recall the number of zeroes involved. Does it run to 7 or 8 digits every year? I don't know, but I do know that the figure is huge.

Companies selling goods and services online are having to adopt more and more elaborate ways of countering the problem. So, when we want to log on to myriad web sites, including many that would not appear to be susceptible to cybercrime, we have to type in our user name followed by a password. Sometimes we can choose the password when registering (or after registration), sometimes the password is allocated randomly by the site, but they usually have to consist of between 8 and 20 characters, a mix of letters and numerals. Sometimes the password is case-sensitive and will contain a mix of both upper- and lower-case letters. We are advised to use a different password for each site with which we are registered, and to change them from time to time. Even the user name can vary. It might be an email address, it might be a name we select (such as AlexJones) or it might be selected for us and consist of a mixture of letters and numerals - just like the password.

Add to all these user names and passwords the PINs connected with credit and debit cards and the situation becomes bizarre. Just how, I ask, is one expected to remember all the user names, passwords and PINs - and which goes with which and where? I have not yet found anybody who has come up with a simple, foolproof system to solve this problem. One acquaintance told me that he has set up a spreadsheet, but I would have thought that rather dangerous even though it is protected by... another password.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Thought

Is it possible to take seriously a country whose President is called I'm a Dinner Jacket?


I wonder what it would be like to wake up in the morning to find that one has become a millionaire overnight? That's what a Gloucestershire couple did last Saturday. They had one of just two winning tickets in the rollover Euro lottery and shared a prize if - wait for it - £113 million. That's right, they won over £56 million!

My financial situation is what could, I suppose, be described as comfortable. In fact, I am more comfortably off now than I have ever been in my life. The present comfortable situation has not always existed as there was a time when my income was so low that the children qualified for free school dinners and the state kindly supplemented my income with what was then called family credit. I have, however, never been in the dreadful position that some people find themselves where they have to choose between heating the house and having a meal.

What, I wonder, would I do with £56 million? Even at today's almost nonexistent rates of interest, that would earn £250,000 a year (if my mental arithmetic is up to scratch) before tax: a very comfortable income indeed. Alternatively, I could spend a million a year for the rest of my life and still leave a generous legacy to the children. But since I would probably find it difficult to spend all that much, I would probably give away a pretty hefty chunk of the money. The problem then is to decide to whom (or which charities) to give money. Perhaps it would be best to set up a charitable trust, appointing half a dozen or so other people to act with me as trustees, and take it from there. But the trust would still need a deed stating how the money was to be spent, so we would be back almost at square one.

Oh well, since I never buy lottery tickets, the chances of it happening to me aren't very great so I needn't worry about it too much.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

How about that?

I edited the Jackpot post and scheduled it to appear tomorrow. It's already up on the blog, under tomorrow's date, and its still today! The wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze me.

Lunch time

And it very nearly is. Lunch for me usually comprises a couple of rolls with cheese, tuna or some such, followed by an apple all washed down with a couple of mugs of coffee. The rolls are home-made, as is all our bread since we bought a bread-maker some two years ago. I don't have the patience to fiddle around moulding the dough into roll-size lumps and then finishing them off in the oven like the Old Bat does, so since she has been hors de combat we have been eating slices of toast at lunch instead of rolls. I have become quite adept at measuring the ingredients, throwing them into the mixing bowl and switching the machine on and last week I excelled myself. I made a cheese and bacon loaf which we enjoyed very much. I spotted another recipe for a malt loaf but the OB said that she had been unable to find any malt extract, one of the essential ingredients. I remember that my mother used to give my brother and me a spoonful of malt extract - Virol, it was called - every day, presumably as a health supplement and I wondered if I might buy some at a chemist's. I tried looking along the shelves of vitamin supplements and the like at several supermarkets without success and then thought of trying a health-food shop. Having to go into town today to the butcher, I popped into a health-food shop almost next door. Eureka! So tomorrow I will make a malt loaf.

Monday, 15 February 2010


Yes, I know the dateline says Monday, but I don't care if it's Monday, Wednesday or New Year's Eve, I'm still going to chunter on about Sunday.

Some years ago - and it might still be the case for all I know - a lot of diaries with a week at a view showed the first day of the week as being Sunday and I went along with that. It didn't occur to me then that Saturday and Sunday are lumped together as "the weekend", nor did I think anything of that verse in Genesis: "And on the seventh day He rested". No, for me the week started on Sunday. Of course, that is the case for followers of the Jewish faith. For them, Saturday is the Sabbath, or seventh day.

It is something of an English tradition that the main meal on Sunday consists of a roast, although that is probably not the general practice these days, partly because this has become such a multicultural society and partly because people just can't be bothered. I have undertaken no research into the matter. But for as long as I can remember, my family has stuck with the tradition: roast meat, roast potatoes, two vegetables - and Yorkshire pudding if the meat is beef.

Fifty years ago - even forty and probably thirty years ago - most families ate their main Sunday meal at lunchtime, and it was still called dinner. That was (and still is) a hangover from our old class system when working men needed a good meal after a hard morning's graft and before starting again in the afternoon. The evening meal was called supper. The upper classes always ate lunch (or even luncheon), afternoon tea, and then dinner in the evening. We also ate our Sunday dinner at lunchtime for many years, but at some point - I know not when - we discovered that we preferred to eat in the evening on Sundays as we did during the rest of the week.

Even now we have a joint of roast meat on Sunday evenings. If there are just the two of us, as is usually the case, we eat in the kitchen, but the meat is always put on a carving dish and carved at the table. The roast potatoes are always placed in a dish, although the other vegetables are often served straight from the saucepans. If there is anyone with us, we lay the dining table with a cloth and place mats, and the vegetables appear in serving dishes. And all that even if it is only our daughter with us.

With the Old Bat's arm in plaster, she is unable to undertake the work of producing the Sunday roast and it falls to me to exercise my negligible culinary skills. Fortunately, the OB is at hand to point me in the right direction, although I do know now how to roast potatoes and for how long to cook them. Last week, we decided - well, the OB decided - we would have a gammon joint from the freezer. I was instructed as to whereabouts in the freezer I would find said joint and duly looked in the appropriate bag. There were two joints in there, and neither had the usual label as produced by the OB, although one did have a label from the butcher which read "pork leg". I brought the other joint for Madam's inspection and she said that it was gammon. We cooked it in the usual way for gammon - in a pressure cooker for some time before roasting in the oven for twenty minutes or so. When I removed the meat from the pressure cooker, I thought it looked a little pale but assumed this was the result of the pressure cooking and that it would presumably regain its pink colour in the oven. The OB, however, knew differently.

'That's not gammon,' she declared. 'That's turkey!'

We agreed to put it in the oven for twenty minutes and hope for the best. Meanwhile, I threw away the honey and mustard glaze and the white sauce, and prepared some gravy. The turkey was fine, if a little dry.

Yesterday I cooked the gammon with its honey and mustard glaze, a white sauce, roast potatoes, roast parsnips (from the garden) and cabbage. Followed by tiramisu, but that wasn't home-made: I cheated and bought it. All very good.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Saturday night television

Why the broadcasters insist on filling Saturday evenings with such a load of rubbish will forever remain a mystery to me. For the last few weeks, one of the (minor) channels has been broadcasting repeats of a series called Rosemary & Thyme which the Old Bat has enjoyed. The plots revolve around two female landscape gardeners (Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme) who unwittingly stumble upon a murder at each of their jobs and set out to solve them. Frankly, the story-lines are so implausible that I have treated the series as a comedy both when it was first aired and now that it has been repeated. Yesterday, however, that channel devoted itself to a Poirot day, with repeats of various Agatha Christie-based dramas starring Hercule Poirot. These ran from 11.20am until 1.10 this morning. Poirot is something I can do without, although I enjoy Miss Marple. It's a pity that Joan Hickson is no longer with us. She was by far the best actress to play Jane Marple. Geraldine MacEwan followed her and, to my mind at least, was badly cast in the role. We now have Julia MacKenzie, who is better but not as good as Hickson. I don't recall seeing Margaret Rutherford in the role, but she was probably excellent.

Agatha Christie has the distinction (although she might not be aware of it) of being the author of the world's longest-running stage show, The Mousetrap, which is at St Martin's Theatre in London. The play is now in its 58th year, which is quite staggering. That show has been running nearly all my life! I suppose it is a bit of an exagerration to say 'nearly all', but it is a large part of my life.

But to get back to last night's television. The Old Bat and I watched a programme that we had recorded a couple of weeks ago. David Dimbleby has written and is presenting a series of programmes entitled The Seven Ages of Britain in which he introduces the art and culture of the country linked to specific periods of our history. The first of the series dealt with the 1500 or so years leading up to the rule of William the Conqueror. He showed, for example, some of the Saxon treasures of Sutton Hoo - exquisite, just look at this shoulder clasp made of gold, amethyst and blue glass - and the mosaic floor of the Roman villa at Bignor - absolutely marvellous. This is a place only a few miles away and one which I am ashamed to say I have never visited, an omission which I really must put right as soon as possible.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Place names

Glancing at an atlas one sees that there are many towns in Australia and the US which have the same names as towns or counties in England, presumably because emigrants from the UK named new places after the towns where they had previously lived. But I find it interesting to learn how some of those old names came about. Some are comparatively easy. A town with the word "bourne" in its name started off beside a stream (bourne) - such as Eastbourne and Bournemouth. A "dean" or a "combe" indicates a valley, and we have plenty around Brighton's suburbs: Withdean, Hollingdean, Coldean, Bevendean, Woodingdean, Standean, Rottingdean, Saltdean, Westdene (note the alternative spelling) along with Moulsecoombe. The "dean" originates in Old English and can often be found as "den" - particularly in Kent (Frittenden, Benenden, Biddenden, Tenterden). The suffix "ham" (as in Rotherham, Gillingham etc) also comes from Old English and means settlement or village, with the first part usually being a corruption of somebody's name so that the whole means "the village of X's people". Names incorporating "chester" (or "cester") are the sites of Roman military encampments: Lancaster, Colchester, Worcester etc.

"Ton" is another Old English word meaning settlement, so Brighton means "Beorhthelm's farm/settlement" while Stanmer means "stone pond" (the "mer" being a contraction of "mere", which is not too far from the French "mer" meaning "sea") and Patcham is "Pecca's homestead". All this courtesy of Nottingham University.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Brain dead

Having come to the end of the Secret Diary of the Sarajevo Seven, I'm sitting here in front of a blank - well, blankish - screen wondering what on earth I can come up with today. I think that part of the problem might be that there seems to be so much else to do other than writing a daily blog: walking the dog, shopping, washing, ironing, cleaning, gardening (I haven't done any of that for ages and I really should get the garlic in as it's a couple of months overdue for planting), starting the next issue of Jungle Jottings, producing the certificates for the Zone's "It's a Knock-Out" day, scanning and printing more photographs for my newly-found cousin, etc etc. Oh well, perhaps what I need is brain food - chocolate. I have started taking chocolate as a medicine. It seems that a couple of squares of plain chocolate (not milk) a day help stave off something. Strokes? Alzheimer's? Heart attacks? Anyway, who cares what they stave off. I'll just eat four squares a day to be on the safe side. But then there was that research reported in the newspaper this morning about the nasty effects of eating chocolate. Let's hope they are wrong.

More chocolate anyone?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 12

Friday, 1st November. All Saints Day.

0030 Katy eventually takes pity and calls a halt. We fall into bed with the prospect of just a few hours sleep before another early start.

0400 Rise and shine.

0500 Back on the road. Brian decides to avoid the Cologne rush-hour and roadworks on the Rhine bridge by taking a turn off through Bonn. Wrong again! The roads don't coincide with the map and we end up in the centre of Bonn after crossing the Rhine. Passing the British embassy and the Bundeshaus we spot signs for Cologne and decide to follow them. They take us through a short street where lorries are prohibited, but just 100 yards later another motorway starts. Back over the Rhine (eastwards) and north towards Cologne, preparing ourselves for the Cologne rush-hour and long delays on the bridge over the Rhine. Brian explained that he thought Bill would be interested in seeing the Rhine bridges.

Round the Cologne ring road easily - very light traffic and no roadworks on the bridge. Sue has now discovered why Tony wanted to sleep in Roy's cab: tea and biscuits in bed in the morning. When they set off they are puzzled by the absence of lorries and even check Roy's diary to make sure that it's not a bank holiday.

Katy was stopped at the Belgian border and asked for autobahnfische. What's that? A ticket costing DM12 that we should have bought at any petrol station. Result - DM500 fine. After paying, the Teutonic official shows us where we could have bought one just over the road. Thanks, mate! Phone Roy to warn him. He buys one, but is not stopped.

1445 Leyland and camper sail from Calais, with another meal in the truckers' restaurant.

1615 Jubilee Way, Dover. Stop at the filling station for Katy to check on dropping part of her load at Gillingham today. Not on, so she will take B&B to drop early tomorrow. Roy phones. His plans have changed as Maureen (his wife) has not been let out of hospital today. Agrees to meet Katy at layby on A2. Katy stops at layby, the others in the camper push on for Horsham.

1900ish Horsham. Drop Manda at Andy's house, then Bill at Terry Clark's. Terry has been looking after Bill's car during the trip. Tony and Brian drive on to Burgess Hill.

1945ish Calais. Roy and Sue in the artic set sail for Dover.

2000ish Burgess Hill. The camper has now covered some 3200 miles. Sheila arrives to collect Brian, who is enjoying a decent cup of tea made by Val.

2115 Dover. All now safely back in the UK. Roy drives to rendezvous with Katy, while Sue collects Katy's car from the compound for the return drive to Seaford. But it wasn't the police compound, just a public parking space. Result - badly scratched door. That makes four vehicles damaged so far.


We did get together again a few weeks later to mull over our thoughts and impressions. Naturally, we all had different memories, but the one thing we all remembered was the young girl smiling as she held her mother's hand and, with the other arm, clutched her new teddy bear as we drove away.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

I refuelled the car

As I think I have indicated before, when it comes to the matter of global warming and/or climate change, I am an agnostic. A seeker after the truth. But perhaps that implies too active a role, whereas I;m completely passive, just sitting back and letting each side talk without taking any active steps myself to look into the matter. Maybe I should adopt the terminology of the opinion pollsters and declare myself as one of the great unwashed, that (usually) large minority known as the Don't Knows.

So yesterday I refuelled the car. And what, you might ask, is so remarkable about that? And what does it have to do with the previous paragraph? Good questions, both of them, and I will do my best to answer reasonably succinctly.

What is remarkable about it is that this is the first time I have put fuel in the car since 14 December, which, by my calendar, is a stretch of eight weeks less one day. I would generally fill up once or twice a month, so to go eight weeks without doing so is quite an achievement and remarkable for that very fact. Of course, the fact that I know exactly when I refuelled, and at exactly what mileage and how much it cost, shows that I am a bit of a nerd as far as keeping a record of the fuel consumption of the car is concerned. I really do it because I once read somewhere that an otherwise unexplained increase in fuel consumption is often the first indication that Something is Going Wrong or about to Go Wrong. And anyway, I like to know.

And what does the refuelling have to do with the first paragraph? Well, I have decided that it would be no bad thing to reduce my carbon footprint (I think that's the current jargon) and use the car less. I therefore declare the occasional day a "no car day" and refuse to drive the 4- or 5-mile round trip to walk the dog in Stanmer. I have been helped, of course, by the fact that I couldn't drive the car for a week while we were snowed in. But I am making a genuine effort. For a little while.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 11

Thursday, 31st October. Hallowe'en.

0600 An early start this morning and the party splits up. Roy will travel to Kufstein, near Innsbruck, to collect his load and is accompanied by Sue. He will head straight back for Calais after loading. They have to leave Austria, cross Germany, then back into Austria again. Problem at border crossing - Roy has no permit to pick up goods. Well, he does have one - for 1995! Once again he talked his way through. This man could talk the Chinese into giving back Hong Kong! After loading, while waiting for the paperwork, they take a stroll in the village and enjoy a bowl of soup.

Katy's three pick-ups mean driving to two small towns some way east of Linz, then back to a chemical works in Linz itself and finally the agents again. She takes Brian as navigator, having forgiven him his mistake last night. Tony, Bill and Manda stay with the camper. After a brief visit to the local supermarket, Tony decides to catch up on sleep. Bill and Manda also visit the supermarket and find a lady who speaks English. On asking for directions to the town centre, she offers a lift which is gratefully accepted. Unfortunately, her town centre is Tauern, not Linz, and on arrival Bill and Manda just catch a bus back. Bill said it was a bit like setting off for Piccadilly only to find oneself at Neasden Town Hall.

After a 150-mile trip (around Linz?), Katy and Brian arrive back at the camper just after lunch to wake Tony. They were amazed at the size of the chemical works, where a street plan was needed to find the pick-up points. The workers are issued with cycles to get around. Gives a whole new meaning to the factory bike!

Although not pressed for time to clear Austria before the commercial vehicle embargo comes into effect at midnight for the bank holiday tomorrow, Katy wants to cover as much ground as possible. She and Tony set off, leaving Brian to await the return of Bill and Manda. They arrived only an hour after Katy left, but it was to take four hours hard driving before the Leyland and the camper were reunited.

Suddenly realised that Sue would need Katy's car keys to take it back to Seaford, so a rendezvous with Roy was arranged over the phone and we all met again just north of Nuremburg. Katy was due for a break, so her part of the team stayed behind while Roy pushed on in what was by now teeming rain. Mummy bear and Baby bear missed the turn for Koblenz, so carried on up the motorway towards Cologne. Surprise, surprise, it wasn't Brian navigating.

Roy and Sue reach Sessart, south of Frankfurt, where they spend the night.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Dog Days

Although his name is familiar to me, having seen his books on the shelf in the public library, I have never read any of Dean Koontz's work - until last week. The Dearly Beloved received one of his books as a Christmas present and I felt I ought to learn something about his writing. I had the feeling that A Big Little Life was somewhere outside his usual type of work in that it is the biography of a dog. One reviewer has described it as "one dog book that everyone other than the most flint-hearted dog-haters will deeply enjoy". Neither the Dearly Beloved nor I could go along whole-heartedly with that description. Both of us considered that Koontz goes way over the top in his attribution of human-like thoughts and emotions to a dog, and the passages of purple prose left me feeling almost embarrassed - until I learned to recognise the signs of the imminent start of them. Then I skipped to the next paragraph. I might try another of his books just to see if ths one is typical if his work. I hope it's not. My star rating: just two.

Coincidentally, I have read another dog biography since: Saving Izzy, by Jon Katz. The jacket designer has subtitled this The Abandoned Dog Who Stole My Heart - his caps, not mine. This was another present for the DB, one I spotted on the supermarket shelf and picked up thinking it might while away an otherwise boring hour or so for her. Given the title and subtitle, I was surprised to find that it is not a book about a dog called Izzy, although he does feature strongly. It is more a series of anecdotes about all the animals (and people) on Katz's New England farm. While it is not a book that I would describe as a page-turner, it is interesting enough - and at least his is a more down-to-earth view of dogs than that shown by Koontz. I enjoyed it, but it doesn't rate more than three stars.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 10

Wednesday, 30th October

0700 Police car and taxi arrive to take Katy to court. Brian goes with her. Boris, the taxi driver, speaks good English which he learnt watching films on TV. Every road into Ptui blocked by long queues of traffic, so Boris decides to drive against the on-coming traffic on the wrong side of the road. Police insist he stays with Katy in court. Not an open court, just Katy before a judge. With a mixture of English and German, Katy learns that she is to be fined the equivalent of £50 for driving without due care plus £25 costs. Boris leads way to bank, Brian looks for bread No joy though as they don't want DM, but eventually Katy arrives with local shrapnel. Back to the rest at about 0930. Total cost of taxi - £9. Meanwhile, Bill has persuaded the restaurant to sell a loaf of bread and taken Brian's mobile phone charger to the garage for repair. Hardly had the right tools, but has done a job for no charge. Meanwhile also, discover that Brian did do some damage. He broke the outer skin of the side window on the camper. Doing well, aren't we?

0950 On the road again.

1030 Slovenia duty free shop. Roy leads the way at the trot. Brian's phone charger has packed up again.

1050 Near Spielfeld, on the Slovenia/Austria border. Camper and artic through OK. Katy stopped for check on court appearance and fine payment.

1140 All clear. Wonderful scenery as we travel through Austria. The snow is now lower on the mountains, though, so we feel that we could not have left this trip much later. Still passing through the tolls free. Tunnels? asks Manda. What are they? And that was after one five miles long.

Anived at Linz in time to visit Roy's agent, who has loads for both lorries. Roy will have to go to Innsbruck, while Katy has 3 pick-ups around Linz, or so they say. Now the exhaust on the camper has practically fallen off. Luckily it only needs a screw to put it right.

We head towards town in the camper, stopping at an electrical shop to get the phone charger repaired. Eventually find a reasonable-looking restaurant. We are just having a pre-dinner drink when Roy's phone rings - VDG Bill. "Have a drink on me", he says. Cheers, Bill! Can you ring again tomorrow?

Feeling very happy as we head back to the lorries, but Brian's navigation lets us down again. Half way to Prague before we realise that we have taken a wrong turn on the motorway! Back at the lorries we decide to read the limericks now as the party will be splitting up tomorrow. The bottle of wine in the fridge is opened and all have a good laugh at our sometimes inept efforts. Impossible to decide on a winner.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 9

Tuesday, 29th October

0600 On the road. We quizzed Stuart last night about the best way out of Bosnia. According to the map there are four routes, but one has a blown bridge. The most convenient for us would take us north through Banja Luka, but to get through there one must have a UN blue card and that takes a fortnight to come through. Can't stay here that long, so that leaves Kamensko, where we came in, and another just beyond Bihac. Bihac will be better, so off through Travnik and Donji Vakuf once more. In Donji Vakuf all traffic has been halted while an IFOR tank convoy crosses the bailey bridge over the river. It's market day, but all they have for sale are sacks of cabbages. Chance to buy bread and put the kettle on. Pass round Mr Kipling fruit pies. Katy decides to save hers for later. After nearly an hour the road is opened again.

1200 Bihac. Looks a complicated town and the army signs are not easy to spot. We send the camper on to find the way through.

1215 Off we go - it's not as bad as we expected.

1245 Border with Croatia - no problems as we are running empty but glad we didn't try to come in this way. The border post is very primitive and there is a long queue of lorries, 30-40 or so, waiting to reach customs to get into Bosnia.

1300 Stop for lunch and discover that Bill has fruit pie all over his trousers.

1705 Croatia/Slovenia border near Krapina. Long queue of lorries which we reluctantly join. Brian eventually decides to pull the camper out of the lorry queue and move up to the border, but misjudges the distance between the camper and Katy's lorry. Tips the wing mirror, but no other damage, so carries on. Starts to rain heavily. In customs bay, Katy needs to reverse to get clear, doesn't see van which has parked behind her. Crunch. No evidence of damage, so doesn't stop.

1830 Left border.

1840 Still raining hard. Arrived night stop - hotel, restaurant and filling station. Book rooms for the evening. Hot showers, real hot showers, the first for days. But problems. Driver of van Katy hit has followed us and claims there is substantial damage, calls police as we dispute this. Police arrive and call out owner of nearby Peugeot garage (van is a Peugeot) who estimates cost of repairs at DM4000. Police and other driver happy to forget it if we hand over cash. Otherwise, Katy taken off to police station in Ptui, about 8-9 miles away, for statements. So, off to Ptui. Roy and Katy arrive back just as restaurant closes, but they agree to get meals. Katy due in court tomorrow morning.

Long Time Coming

I have said before that my favourite author is Robert Goddard. His plots have so many twists and turns that reading one of his books is a little like walking through a maze: I stand in awe of his imagination. Because of this, I usually like to read his books in fairly large chinks at a sitting rather than just three of four pages at a time. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this with his latest book, Long Time Coming, and I am almost certain that I missed out because of this. A second reading will be needed before too long.

Long Time Coming is set in two times and three places - Dublin in 1940 and London and Antwerp in 1976 - with a final chapter set in 2008 to bring the loose ends together. Stephen Swan has always understood his uncle to be dead when in fact he has served 36 years in an Irish prison. Before his imprisonment his life had been rather flamboyant and involved with some dubious characters who have come back to haunt him following his release. Stephen, at a loose end having just left his job, agrees to help his uncle unravel the mystery.

As with all Goddard's books, this one most definitely rates five stars.

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 8

Monday, 28th October

0030 Katy wakes with a terrific thirst. Doesn't trust the tap water, so goes out to wake Brian in the camper for a bottle of water. Night porter sees her coming back and thinks she is due to be a patient before long. Much leg pulling for the rest of the trip! Bill had thought to take a bottle with him, so he and Sue were OK when they too woke with terrible thirsts.

0600 Roy, Tony and Brian start to move stuff from the artic to the Leyland in order to speed things up later. Halfway through, the nurse from last night comes and asks if all this is for him. What brass-necked cheek.

0900 Back at the camp. The young men are around today, so we should get things moving pretty fast, but there is no sign of the bossman. The youngsters are pretty boisterous and we have to alternately calm them down a bit and nag them to work! The women join in and Momma soon puts some of the lads in their place. We ask Tanya and Sneeze about schooling. Sneeze says that the school bus comes round twice a day and the children have half a day's school, but that she won't be going today. She will take a sick note tomorrow. From the number of children around all day we assume that there must be quite an epidemic in the camp! Sue looked at Sneeze's English book - rather dated -and gave an impromptu English lesson, concentrating on pronouncing "th", which gives them great difficulty.

Unloading means practically blocking the lane with the artic while the goods are transferred to the Leyland and then ferried down into the camp. Before we finish we will have handled 24 tons twice and six tons once, a total of 54 tons! No wonder that it takes quite a few trips in the Leyland to clear the artic. The pallets are quickly taken for firewood, and the hardboard packing sheets are also great prizes, presumably for building.

A corner of the camp

During the day, members of the team wander off into different parts of the camp. We are invited to two different stills, one in the ruins of a house, the other in a garden shed, and the Yugoslavian whisky flows quite freely. We wonder if this will be the fate of the water that we have brought them, courtesy of Gatwick Airport. Other hospitality is offered, including coffee, walnuts, and com on the cob roasted in the ashes of the fire under one of the stills. In another dormitory the best china is brought out, and very attractive it is too. It reminds us that these people previously enjoyed quite a reasonable standard of living but that civil war has brought them to this.

In the still

Cooking facilities for 84 people

While taking coffee with Momma, one of the men comes into the dormitory. He spends nearly five minutes shaking Brian's hand, virtually speechless, and with tears running down his cheeks. When he does manage to speak Brian asks one of the girls to translate. She looks embarrassed and merely says, "He says it is very good." It is quite obvious that our help is very welcome, but equally moving is the gratitude these people feel towards us for simply thinking of them and coming here.

Meanwhile, some of us show the children how to unwrap tubes of sweets and how to use a skipping rope. Younger children arc clutching new cuddly toys Some of the women do the laundry in the stream, one using a wheelbarrow to carry it.

A lesson in skipping

Some of the refugees arc anxious to have their photographs taken, but two old men cross themselves and then make the sign of a cross with their index fingers before pointing at the camera. Could this be protection against the evil eye? Or do they believe that the camera will steal their souls, like some of the African tribes did? Not at all. They want their pictures taken and are indicating that they are to be placed in the headstones of their graves. They arc quite disappointed when we show that the cameras arc not Polaroids and explain that they will have to wait two months for the pictures.

Just before we leave, the lady living in one of the containers presents us all with forage caps.

1545 Finished unloading and start the long journey home. We decide to head for Vitez tonight, even though it will mean travelling after dark and this is warned against by the Foreign Office. Still, they warned against coming here at all!

1945 Vitez. Managed the journey back rather quicker, even negotiating Sarajevo in the dusk/dark, and feel rather pleased with ourselves. Bill had a nasty shock in one tunnel. As he was driving through, another vehicle decided to overtake a horse and cart coming in the opposite direction. Just scraped through without bouncing off the wall. Only one lane in the Sarajevo tunnel, which goes round a bend, and no lights. We had not realised before that there was two-way traffic here! Many carts, and even cars, without lights.

Fortunately Stuart was still at the compound, so we had no trouble talking the guard into letting us stay. The calor gas bottle in the camper has run out. We intended trying to talk a British army post into letting us have another, but didn't see one on the journey from Visegrad. Stuart comes to the rescue, though it costs us a pack of bacon. Reckon we got the better deal. We promise to be out of the way before his lorries arrive in the morning and with many thanks say goodbye, promising to watch out for his football team, St Johnstone.

Back to the same restaurant in the town for a meal. The owner is so pleased to see us that there are souvenir lighters for all. Pity most of them don't work.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Another short break

Signs of spring: a near-neighbour's snowdrops have been in bloom for at least a couple of weeks. They are a particularly early-blooming variety and the buds on ours only started opening last week. Then this morning in the park I noticed that one tree is full of catkins and as I came past our front garden on the way back I spotted several crocuses where the buds are nearly ready to open. If the sun were to put in an appearance for a day or two, they would soon come out.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Secret Diary - Day 7 continued

Sunday, 27th October (still)

1345 Visegrad refugee collecting centre. The centre lies some miles from the town, along a narrow lane. At one point there is a narrow, wooden bridge to cross - a bit tricky for Roy in the artic, but he managed. As we came along the !ane we were passed by an open lorry with the back filled by young men. They all cheered as we passed them. We learned later that they were from the camp and were on their way to watch a football match in town. The camp boss-man was just about to join them when he heard that we were coming and decided to stay at home.

Our first sight of the collecting centre

First sight of the camp was a couple of containers on top of a bank, the containers used on container ships etc. But these had windows and chimneys and were used as houses. The main part of the camp is on other side of road in old school buildings, plus numerous plywood shacks. Looked quite picturesque through the trees from the top of the drive but a man shaving at the outlet of a stream beside the road spoiled the picture. Much mud, and obvious wood chopping area. Many clothes hanging out to dry and it is clear that they try to keep themselves clean. Impossible to get the artic down the drive, but we manage the Leyland with a bit of a problem getting under a low power line. Hooked that up and over the lorry with a plank of wood.

The main part of the centre

Refugees very pleased to see us and start to unload with a will. At least, the women and children do. Some of the men helped later, but most stood and watched. That seems to be the custom out here. Brian said that the old bat would never let him get away with it.

We were all pressed to take refreshment and visited the dormitories. Difficult to describe inside the main school building. Passageways lined with pathetically small bundles of personal possessions, no lighting even though it was getting dark. Dormitories are in what used to be classrooms, one now sleeping 84. Bunks two high, 3 feet between rows, head and back boards butting against each other. Each bunk about 5 or 6 feet wide. This is a family's living area. Privacy only found by hanging clothes around the bunks - there's nowhere else anyway. Cooking on ancient wood-burning stove. Made to take the best seats as honoured guests. Only about 6 or 7 seats anyway. Bottles of Yugoslavian whisky produced and elaborate brass coffee grinders. Whisky distilled from plums in the camp.

Living space for one family

Bossman explains he was a bus driver in Germany till his work permit expired. He returned to Mostar but found his house in ruins. He and his wife and three children have been here for 5 years. Difficult to understand how they maintain their stoical, almost cheerful, patience. The dignity of some of the older people is wonderful.

One or two girls speak English. Tanya is 20, and another girl 15. She tells us her name several times, but we can't get it right and decide to call her Sneeze, the nearest we can get.

Bill is captured by an old lady and given a Serbian forage cap, then she takes him into another room to show him the sewing maching on which she made it. At least, that's his story.

It begins to look as though they intend to get a meal for us but we have no intention of taking their food and we don't trust the water, so we ease our way out tactfully. We hand out cigarettes and cigars and promise to return at 9.00am tomorrow.

1615 Depart the camp, Oliver leading us to the best hotel in town. Actually, it's in the mountains a few miles from the camp. Getting back across the wooden bridge is even more of a problem for Roy and in the end the guardrail has to go. Pass a hot spring on the way and dream of steaming hot showers! Hotel looks magnificent, built for the 1984 winter Olympics, perhaps? Remember Torvill and Dean's nine perfect 6.0's for their Bolero routine? Won't let us have rooms for the evening only, so we book 2 twin-bedded rooms for the night. Katy and Manda will sleep in one, Sue and Bill in the other. Roy, Tony and Brian will stay with the vehicles. At least we can all have a hot shower and a decent meal in the hotel. Some hope! The hot water is the tepid side of cool - and that's when you can get any at all. Still, some are brave enough for cold showers. Reception want passports for the four sleeping in the hotel. But where is Bill? To get things moving, Brian produces his passport, so Bill and Sue end up as Mr & Mrs Slater.

We ask directions to the bar and are sent to the far end of an enormous dining room. There must be tables and chairs for 200 people. After a few drinks we repair to another section of the dining room where something seems to be happening in the way of serving food. Tables are laid up and there are local people scattered around. We gather that we can sit where we like, so we do. The waiter comes and takes our order. Then bedlam! A man dressed as a nurse (psychiatric?) screams at us and we gather that he wants us to leave. Can't think what we have done wrong - or is this a case of the patients running the asylum? Two or three of the locals tell him to stop making a fuss. "No problem", they say. At least, that's what it sounded like. However, we decide to withdraw and sit at another table in the posher part of the restaurant where we were eventually served with almost cold meals. Katy's was hot, but only because the waiter forgot to order hers. We decide that the hotel is being used as a treatment centre of some sort and that the other part of the dining room was for the patients only.

Leaving the restaurant, Roy leads the way through the 6 foot gap between a pillar and the wall, only to find it's not a gap but a plate glass window. Roy's OK and the window is undamaged, but Roy's glasses fell to the tiled floor and one lens is smashed.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

And Justice There Is None

I wonder why an American author would want to write a police procedural "who dun it" set in London with the principal characters being officers in the Metropolitan Police? Whatever the reason, I have now come across my second example. Elizabeth George was the first, with her very popular Inspector Lynley series, which was an equally popular adaptation for television, although the success of the series may have owed something to Nathaniel Parker and Sharon Stone who were so brilliantly cast as Lynley and his sidekick, Sergeant Havers. The second such author who has recently come to my attention is Deborah Crombie. I have just read "And Justice There Is None", which I find is the eighth novel in the Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid series. It might have been better had I started with the first.

The author's mini-biog states that Crombie lives in Texas and at first I was unsure whether the author is an American whose novel is set in London or an English woman who has emigrated to the US. I quickly realised she is American when I came across a mention of paper money. She used the word "bills" whereas an English writer would have said "notes". Other clues cropped up from time to time indicating that her research was considerably less thorough than is Elizabeth George's. For example, Crombie refers to London police cars as being orange and black. They never have been. Then she confuses Hertfordshire and Herefordshire, although this might have been simply a typographic error.

These quibbles apart, I found the book an enjoyable read and not a bad example of its genre, although she does seem to be following something of a fashion fad in having two senior police officers as live-in partners, an idea I have seen used by a number of other authors recently. Crombie produces believable characters, ranging from the "normal" to the eccentric, and her settings are described well enough to picture them easily. The plot is developed steadily, although there is one factor which doesn't seem to connect very well. There appear at first to be two separate stories interwoven; fortunately, the use of two different typefaces makes it easy to separate them. But of course, they turn out to be two parts of the same story. We also see the main sub-plot - the relationship between Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid - develop to a point that provides a good position from which to continue in another book.

As I said, I enjoyed the book and will be happy to pick up others by Ms Crombie when I am at the library. "And Justice There Is None" is not up to Elizabeth George's standard, but definitely worth four stars.

Monday, 1 February 2010


My darling daughter drove 100+ miles to cook our dinner. She said it was to give me a break from cooking as she knows a) I don't really like cooking, and b) I'm not a lot of good at it. I think she really came to give the Old Bat a break from my cooking!

The Secret Diary - Day 7

Sunday, 27th October

We learn that last night's high jinks was just an exuberant wedding party. If that was a wedding, what happens in an argument, we wonder.

British Summer Time ended last night, so the clocks at home have been put back an hour. Same here. We decide not to alter the tacho clocks, but do change our watches, at least, some of us do. Result - confusion over times for the rest of the trip.

After Stuart had spoken with Oliver, the Children's Aid project director, and discussed matters with us it has been decided that we will undertake a drop at just one camp, or refugee collecting centre as they are known. There are three that need help, but they are scattered around southern Bosnia and we really don't have the time to try getting to all of them. We decide on the one near Visegrad as it is the best organised and disciplined so there is less chance of things ending up on the black market. We fully expect that something like this will happen wherever we deliver. One thing does concern us: the medical equipment. Stuart can't take it into his warehouse and but he will try to arrange for it to be delivered direct to a hospital.

0815 On the road, with Stuart leading the convoy to Sarajevo where we will meet Oliver, the project director. We had not noticed last night just how badly Vitez is damaged. Things really are appalling. Sarajevo, too, is very bad. Traffic lights don't work and people are living in blocks of flats that really are uninhabitable. Whole office blocks have no glass. Wooden shacks have been erected on the streets to serve as shops. The trams are running and are more crowded than the London underground in the rush hour.

Sarajevo street scene

0955 Sarajevo. Meet Oliver and Angelica, a local girl who has learnt English working with the aid organisations. Repair to a cafe for coffee, but it's shut. Stuart returns to Vitez, and Oliver leads us on to Visegrad which is at least another two hours away. What about breakfast, we ask, so he gives meat pies and baklava baked by his mother-in-law.

This had been the library in Sarajevo

1030 Press on. Scenery much as before - magnificent if you can ignore the signs of war, but that is almost impossible. Here and there along the road are more wooden-shack shops standing in front of houses. We have over 40 tunnels to pass through, the first of them in Sarajevo itself. This has one half shut off and we wonder if it is about to fall down. We learn later that the city's water purification plant has been installed there as the safest place in the city. No lighting in the tunnels, so as it is a bright sunny day diving into them is a bit like diving into the black hole of Calcutta. No hope of seeing anything until eyes adjust - headlights seem like candles - so just drive and hope! Roy hit a massive pothole at least a foot deep as he left the Sarajevo tunnel. Everything in the cab fell to the floor. Was it this that shifted the load on the trailer?

Typical countryside

1215 Ustipraca. Stop here for coffee where the Gorazde convoys used to collect to be escorted into the town. This village has been completely destroyed and the road junction is now guarded by a whole battalion of Portuguese troops. Tented cafes have been opened to serve them and we stop at one for coffee. Oliver explained that the road we had just travelled had been one of the most dangerous in the country. Leaving the cafe, two young men in a VW van approach us, seemingly to sell us beer. We refused to buy any, whereupon they gave us a bottle each. How weird. On through alternate sun and dark tunnels (Manda was great!), through Visegrad with its beautiful 10-arched bridge, and on still further eastwards towards the Serbian border, which is now very close.

The cafe at Ustipraca and, below, the village